A few days ago, I gave a little presentation at work on how I use my RSS feeds. Most of it was stuff I’ve learned from T-Bone. Today, T shot me a tweet asking if I had written any of it down. Which I had not. So I thought I’d try.
First, most of this is going to be old hat for people who read this blog. Most of you probably have better solutions that me or are using software that I’m still late-to-the-party for. Anyway, here goes:
Several years ago, I was completely ignorant of RSS and readers. I had sites– blogs, news sites, social networking sites (Friendster!), etc. that I was interested in. Many, I would check daily for new updates. Then T introduced me to Google Reader, an RSS feed reader. With a feed reader (there are many out there– I use feedly these days), I read updates to websites as if they were emails in an inbox. This means I can check all those sites in one place and only when there’s new stuff! (Switching browsing modes to a push-pull strategy).
But RSS isn’t just the content of blogs. All manner of things come in the RSS flavor. For example, any search in Craigslist (and Ebay too, although it’s harder to find) can be saved out as a feed. This is how I found my apartment here in Seattle. I went to Craigslist, searched for Fremont / apartments / 1+ Bedrooms / price range / dogs and stored the resulting RSS in my reader. Whenever a new listing appeared, it showed up directly in my reader, I didn’t have to check Craiglist. I stored several searches in different neighborhoods and called them as soon as listings came up. I got the house I’m renting now, because I “was the first to call”.
I still use this technique for shopping. I’ll create some search feeds on Ebay and Amazon of stuff I want at a price I want, if there’s a hit, I see it in my feed reader. Easy! And you can do it with jobs, services, and *ahem* dates, if you’re into that.
Another type of site that offers feeds that I keep track of are social networking sites. I’m not a huge fan of facebook, but I do like the updates. So I grab the updates as a feed. For my closer friends, I track their twitter updates, flickr photos, delicious links, locations (with dopplr), etc etc. Delicious is a nice site because, like Craigslist, every page has a feed. You can follow tags, people, people networks– combinations of those. Using a feed reader, I can finally unify the content that all these disparate social networks are supposed to connect me to anyway. I can also know if someone sends me a link in delicious or comments on my photos… those are feeds too. Now I don’t actually have to go to the site to know what’s happening, all that information comes to me.
But what if you want something different than what a given feed can offer? Say you like Slashdot, but the feed has a ton of posts that you’re never going to read. It would be great if you could filter them. Luckily you can use something like Yahoo Pipes or MS Popfly. These web services take RSS (and things that aren’t RSS, but can be converted) and let you use a graphical programming language to manipulate a data stream into an RSS feed that you can be happy with. (T has a great little tutorial on Pipes.)
The last thing I do with feeds is package up my own. I use Swurl, which isn’t great, but it does the trick. Now I’ve got a feed with my blog posts, tweets, delicious links, netflix queue etc– basically everything I’m spamming out on to the interwebs. I put that feed back into my reader. Now when I want to search for something I’ve forgotten or should know, I search my reader instead of a Search Engine or Delicious. My reader has all of my stuff and all the stuff of the people and places that I care about.
These days I’m trying to do some of the same sort of things– taking streams and modifying them– with Twitter’s version of a reader: TweetDeck. The flow is surprisingly similar in places. We’ll see how it turns out…